(Corrects Pentagon spokesman's remark in 12th graph to remove
* Prisoner is accused in deadly attack on warship USS Cole
* Defense wants him to testify about CIA interrogations
* U.S. law says tribunals should generally be open to public
By Jane Sutton
WASHINGTON, April 9 Several U.S. news
organizations have asked a judge in the Guantanamo war crimes
tribunals to keep the court open to the media this week if an
alleged al Qaeda chieftain is allowed to testify about his
mistreatment in secret CIA prisons.
Defense lawyers have said the court would almost certainly
meet in a secret session if the judge permits testimony from Abd
al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi prisoner accused of orchestrating
the attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors aboard the USS Cole off
the coast of Yemen in 2000.
Three days of pretrial motions are scheduled to begin on
Wednesday in the death penalty case at the Guantanamo Bay U.S.
naval base in Cuba.
Nashiri would be the first former CIA captive to give a
first-hand account in court about interrogation methods that the
government considers to be secret.
Defense lawyers want to put Nashiri's treatment in CIA
prisons on the record. They hope to do that by arguing that
jailors should stop shackling him to the floor when he meets
with them, obtaining his testimony that the leg chain reminds
him of the trauma he suffered in CIA prisons and impairs his
ability to help prepare a defense.
The Miami Herald and its parent company, The McClatchy Co.,
initiated a motion asking the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, to
keep the hearing open. Several news organizations, including
Reuters, joined the request.
The news groups argue that journalists should be able to
witness Nashiri's testimony because some details of his
treatment are already known publicly and because the Pentagon
has adequate safeguards to prevent national secrets from being
Journalists normally watch the hearings from behind a
soundproof glass wall in the courtroom, or on a closed-circuit
feed. In both cases, the audio feed is delayed by 40 seconds to
give the court security officer time to block the sound with
white noise if classified information is mentioned.
If the judge closes the court, journalists would not be able
to watch or hear the proceedings.
The law underpinning the tribunals expressly mandates that
the proceedings must be open to the media and public, except in
certain narrowly limited circumstances, David A. Schulz, an
attorney representing the news organizations, wrote in the
He said a blanket closure of the court would not be in the
public interest because matters to be discussed at the hearing
"shed considerable light on how the United States government
treats 'high-value detainees' such as Mr. al Nashiri, and how
such treatment affects both the fairness and the appearance of
fairness of these proceedings."
The judge has not indicated how he will handle the request,
said a Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale.
Nashiri is accused of masterminding the attack in which two
suicide bombers rammed an explosives-laden boat into the side of
the Cole during a refueling stop in the Yemeni port of Aden.
He was captured in Dubai in 2002 and held in secret CIA
prisons, reportedly in Thailand, Afghanistan and Poland, before
being sent to the Guantanamo detention camp in 2006.
The CIA has acknowledged that Nashiri was subjected to the
simulated drowning technique known as water-boarding, and that
agents racked a semiautomatic handgun near his head and revved
up a power drill while he was blindfolded to frighten him in to
Defense attorneys have said he was also stripped naked and
chained to a wall as part of a sleep-deprivation treatment.
"I have no reason to think the prosecution will in any way
agree to have Mr. Nashiri's testimony public. My guess is that
they will try and prevent it from happening altogether," defense
attorney Rick Kammen told Reuters.
The charges against Nashiri include murder, attempted murder
and conspiring with al Qaeda, and he could be the first
Guantanamo captive to face the death penalty if convicted.
Defense lawyers have said the United States has lost its
moral authority to execute him because it tortured him, and that
his treatment at CIA hands "is just going to infect everything
in this case."
Prosecutors have not commented publicly about whether they
want the hearing closed. They have filed what is titled "Motion
for Hearing to Identify and Minimize Amount of Closure of
Proceedings" in the shackling matter, however it remained sealed
Other media groups joining the request were Fox News
Network, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The New
Yorker magazine, the Tribune Company, The Wall Street Journal
and the Washington Post.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Philip Barbara)